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Livelihoods in jeopardy as East Devon business owners left counting the costs of the storms

By Exeter Express and Echo  |  Posted: February 06, 2014

  • Picture by Ruth Evans

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Widespread devastation caused by ferocious storms which continue to batter the South West coastline have left business owners around East Devon picking up the pieces.

Gale force winds and huge waves have been blasting the region particularly at high tides when, in areas including Exmouth, Sidmouth and Topsham, sea water poured over the sea walls and surged through the streets leaving piles of debris in its wake.

In Exmouth, the Ice Cream Hut, which is thought to have been in situ on Exmouth beach along Queen’s Drive for around six decades was uprooted in the storms.

The family-run business has been with the current owners for around 20 years but was formerly owned by the grandparents of Dawn Hirst who owns the Harbour View Café next door, for around two decades.

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“It is devastating for the owners,” said Dawn, whose family has run the Harbour View for around 35 years. “We’ve had the concern about the district council’s plans to redevelop the area, but now the storms have done this.

“I remember sitting in the hut as a child, swinging my legs, getting in my grandparents way!

“People have such fond memories of the hut, it’s a part of many people’s childhoods. It’s awful what has happened.”

Mrs Hirst described watching the effort by the owners and other nearby business owners, to save the hut as waves eroded the sand underneath causing the kiosk to topple backwards.

Police cordoned off the area after waves exposed live electric cables which were left sparking in the open.

The shifting of the hut also revealed what was initially thought to be a Second World War grenade.

However on closer inspection by Royal Navy bomb disposal experts who came up from Plymouth yesterday afternoon, the discovery was a military smoke grenade used in battle simulation exercises and thought to date back around 20 years.

Local business people including Fun Park owner Chris Wright assisted the owners with trying to save the kiosk from being dragged out to sea.

They tied the kiosk to Mr Wright's 4x4 with rope to hold it in place at the height of the storm for around two hours.

Dawn’s father, chairman of Devon County Council and ward member for Woodbury, Councillor Bernard Hughes also offered assistance.

“With every wave, ,you could see the sand rapidly disappearing underneath,” Dawn continued adding that winds tore several tiles off her roof. “It was getting to battered by the waves.

“I’ve never seen the sea come up this far, it was almost at the back door of the café and washed the steps away.

“It was really gutting to see a family lose their business like this.

“It was a surreal day yesterday, the excitement of the storm quickly changed into concerns about its destruction.”

Simon and Caroline Spiller, owners of Otterton Mill near Budleigh Salterton were forced to close for three days due to the storms.

The couple have re-opened for business as usual today.

Since the start of 2008, the mill has suffered five "catastrophic" floods which have engulfed all the buildings. Prior to 2008, the buildings last flooded in the 1960s.

“After taking over the Mill six years ago, we’ve certainly had more than our fair share of flooding," said Simon. "We have invested a lot of money and personal commitment to keep the mill in business and we’re optimistic that we can turn things around quickly if flooding causes a prolonged closure.

"In the winter, we really rely on our regular visitors to keep us going.

"Like many other rural and coastal businesses we have been blighted by the extreme winter weather conditions since November.

"We remain resilient and grateful to our team for being flexible and patient with the impact on their personal circumstances.

"Three full days of closure and reduced daily trading hours have been hard to swallow, but we are still here and determined to make it through to the summer."

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